It is legitimate to wonder about the determination of certain self-proclaimed democratic governments and media to anathematise the leaders of Cambodia and discredit them to take up the cause of opponents who have made proof of their inability to organise and govern.
Where they become dishonest is ignoring the record of 25 years of nation-building since 1998, when the Kingdom achieved comprehensive peace with the reintegration of the Khmer Rouge armed forces through Prime Minister Hun Sen’s “win-win” policy.
The spectacular success of this record is indisputable. Established by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and fully endorsed by civil society, the development is general throughout the country. A recent survey (Consumer report – Confluences 2023) indicates that 92 per cent of Cambodians are optimistic about the future. What country, claiming to be liberal, says it better?
To ease their conscience, some critics acknowledge the drastic drop in poverty, which has fallen from 36.7 per cent of the population in 2014 to 16.6 per cent in 2022, but they are careful not to highlight the original policies and means implemented for this extraordinary success. A vast enterprise is already at work in the aftermath of the 2023 general election to continue to safeguard the peace, stability and progress in the national harmony the Kingdom enjoys today.
Cambodia continues to call on European nations to participate in the development of the country, but do they still have the means?
By opening their columns, cameras and microphones to levity and unfair criticism, Western governments and media harm themselves and the liberal democracies they claim to embody. While Cambodia advances on the path of prosperity and true democracy, these countries give lessons, tumble and no longer make their own youth dream.
Loss of sovereignty, deindustrialisation, abysmal deficits, urban neighborhoods that have become areas of lawlessness, failing military and police security, weakened justice, education in full drift, degraded health system, culture oriented towards nihilism, “wokism” and cancel culture: Too many Western Europeans have forgotten the high lineage of cultures that shaped Western Christian civilisation. Worse, they have scuttled the values that uplift them. They legitimised one by one the prohibitions they had imposed on themselves such as divorce, abortion, suicide, euthanasia, marriage for all. They abandoned religious rituals and returned to paganism.
The projects add up and worry the most reckless such as the influence of private companies in sovereign areas and interference by cyber in political, security, electoral, work, purchasing and thought choices ... The Western world, which has become a minority, does not give up and continues to believe that its model is universal, exemplary and will bring happiness on Earth. That Western art no longer produces masterpieces should alarm and encourage us to rediscover a vision of the world where transcendence and immanence have their part.
Opponents rely on this failed model to try to achieve power in Cambodia. They do not hide it, their objectives are clear and the adventure will have as stages: the abolition of the monarchy, the installation of a regime with a republican face which will turn into a dictatorship, a new Constitution, the arrival of foreign troops on the national territory, the catastrophic departure of expatriates and their companies, the drain of brains and capital, the end of development and chaos.
The Western calculation to support these opponents, to demand their unconditional return to Cambodia, is a pitiful mistake. It is based on the false promise of following the ideal and supposedly universal liberal European model and on the belief that opponents will end friendships made in the Asia-Pacific region, especially Chinese, considered hostile to the West. What a blindness of mind! In the great concert of nations, Cambodia plays its part with accuracy, rhythm and talent.
Meanness deludes minds. Where Western critics see nepotism, arbitrariness and domination in Cambodia, the majority of Cambodians see the man who made them forget the shame of being victims since 1970 and owe him to have become winners. The organisation of the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Phnom Penh in 2023 was a moment when national pride returned to permeate an entire people. In the history of mankind, all civilisations and all societies combined, the one who achieves such a tour de force deserves a name, that of hero. To the great popular satisfaction, with his party, he has just been re-elected with more than 80 per cent of the vote.
Bopha Phat is a Cambodian analyst based in Phnom Penh.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author.